The way it began had Bethesda Big Train fans wincing with familiarity, but the way it ended gave them reason to celebrate.
The Big Train took Game 1 of the CRCBL Championship Series on Friday, defeating the Baltimore Redbirds, their longtime nemeses, by a score of 6-3. Bethesda used an explosive five-run first inning and another strong start from pitcher Logan Gilbert (Stetson) to put themselves in position to win their first championship in 5 years.
The team that has defeated them in the finals in each of the last four years looked to be just as dangerous as ever. The Redbirds jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning thanks to multiple quality at bats and a double on a soft line drive down the right field line that landed just fair.
“[The Redbirds] are a great team,” said Big Train manager Sal Colangelo. “You’ve got two of the best teams in America going at it, and any given day anything can happen.”
The Big Train, however, were quick to prove that this year would be very different. After Logan Farrar (VCU) and Clayton Daniel (Jacksonville St.) both reached base to lead off the bottom of the first, left fielder Vinny Esposito (Sacramento St.), the Big Train’s hottest hitter over the last few weeks, drove in them both on a liner to right.
Later in the inning, Cody Brown (Mississippi St.) took second base on a delayed steal attempt and advanced to third when the throw from the catcher bounced off Brown’s foot and into left field. Then, with Garrett Kueber (Moorpark) at the plate, the ever-alert Brown stole home while the Redbirds catcher was tossing the ball back to the pitcher. Kueber’s single to left would score Mike Emodi (Creighton) and extend the Bethesda lead to 5-2.
The game quickly settled down after that frenetic first inning. Big Train starter Logan Gilbert, who has been one of the most consistent pitchers for the team this season, quickly found his groove, surrendering only 1 unearned run over the next 5 innings. Gilbert’s trademark command of his fastball was again evident, striking out 3 Redbirds batters and inducing a number of weak ground outs and pop flies.
In the bottom of the 5th, it seemed like the Big Train were primed to add to their 5-3 lead. Allen Smoot (San Francisco) and Esposito hit back-to-back singles to put men on first and second. However, the team’s offensive momentum grinded to a halt on a controversial 6-4-3 double play. Justin Morris (Maryland) appeared to beat out Redbirds second baseman Jake Mueller’s throw to first, which forced first baseman Matt Rowland to leap to catch it, but umpire Bill Worthington called Morris out.
The Big Train were finally able to bring another run across the plate in the 7th inning. Logan Farrar led off with a towering double to right-center field, scoring on a passed ball by catcher Nicholas Fortes. Farrar went 2 for 3 on the night with 2 runs scored and a hit by pitch.
“I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself because I know if I don’t get it done, I have plenty of teammates behind me who can. So I’m able to go out here and just play my game,” said Farrar. “Fortunately I’ve been able to create something for the team, but having all these hot hitters around me really helps […] The pitchers make mistakes, and I get to take advantage of them.”
With a three-run lead, it fell to senior Sean Barry (San Diego) to get the save. Barry, who posted a 2.17 ERA and struck out 42 batters in 37 1/3 innings, was more than up to the task. The right-hander pitched three shutout innings, slamming the door on the Redbirds and closing out the game in convincing fashion.
The focus now turns to Game 2 on Saturday night in Baltimore. For Big Train veterans such as Farrar, it will be an opportunity to undo the agonizing losses of years past and bring the playoff title back to Bethesda.
“We usually win the regular season and they win the tournament, so me and Cody [Brown] being here for a while, and Justin [Morris], we know that’s usually how it works. But they won the regular season this year, so that just means this is our year to win the tournament,” said Farrar. “Just being a senior, this being my last year here, it would be pretty fun. It feels good to go up Game 1, and now we’re in the driver’s seat.”
Game 2 is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. at Calvert Hall High School on Saturday.
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